The 20 most essential art books for a school library
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I'm not sure what you're looking for here, but will offer one of my favorite books as a beginning to your list. I think school kids would enjoy it. I know I would have at that age. The title is Impressionists in Winter by Charles Moffett,et al. The prints are beautifully done, there is a wealth of information about the paintings and the painters, dates are included (which is VERY important to me personally and aren't always), and it reads more like a catalog than one of those long, boring tomes designed to impress with LOTS of "personal insight." I like it very much.
I remember when I took AP European History (back around the tail-end of the Vietnam War), one of the test questions that stumped a lot of my classmates was to match a painting (a Seurat, IIRC) to its period. Not Impressionism vs. Neo- or Post-Impressionism, but Impressionism vs. Expressionism or Cubism. I doubt things have changed much in the intervening decades. But you can still probably manage to have a few kids know more than that Monet and Manet are two different people.
Something that I do not get is how teenagers manage to have the same negative opinions about Modernism as their grandparents. This belief isn't based on any scientific survey that I've seen, but just overheard conversations at the museum or posting in blogs and on those group sites that encourage flaming like Slashdot or fark whenever Pollock or Rothko somehow comes up. Even more so geometrical abstraction (which we collect), which used to be regularly lampooned in New Yorker cartoons, where the gag was always that it was incomprehensible. People thought Impressionism was outrageous too at one time, but now everyone crowds in to look at mediocre examples. Does it really take more than a hundred years for mainstream tastes to mature?
I am guessing that these are middle or upper-middle class white kids. And that some of their parents will have a art at home other than Warner Sallman. I appreciate that there isn't any way to confirm or correct this without risking getting into lots of trouble. But that's my assumption.
I think you're saying that you've got Classical and High Renaissance already covered. I hope some of this is up-to-date, though. For instance, one should probably know that originally Greek marbles were often garish polychromes. (This was a subject or much debate beginning in Victorian times. It was settled by the Second World War, but as we know it takes a while. They can see pretty much the very same difference between the sublime Indian statuary in museums and its contemporary continuations on Discovery HD).
It sounds like you want one or more of Gardner's Art Through the Ages, Janson's History of Art, Stokstal's Art History or Honour & Fleming's A World History of Art, all of which compete for the same Art History 101 market. I bet others here have opinions on which is best; I don't myself, really. You'll want a somewhat recent edition, as the canon keeps changing and in particular has added a lot more emphasis on non-Western Art lately. You probably don't need the very latest edition, though. Which means you can get it a lot cheaper in remainders. Core course textbook publishing is a scam. As a prank, you could get the October gang's Art Since 1900 and wait to see how their freshman professors react: lots of people seem to absolutely hate this book.
To expand and fill in some of the gaps, a bunch of volumes from Thames and Hudson's World of Art series might be a good buy. They are a bit small and the bindings may not hold up forever, but the reproductions are solid quality. And the text is almost always reputable. For instance, Contemporary African Art has material that you'd be hard pressed to find except maybe in a bunch of carefully assembled reprints from African Arts. Aboriginal Art is also very good, if not as unique. (These happen to be a couple of areas we collect.) Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century, which may be more germane for your geography, is not as specialized, but still well informed. There are also volumes on various movements like you wanted: Surrealism, Futurism, Abstract Expressionism, etc.
Non-Western Art: A Brief Guide is interesting in that it aims specifically to have a broad focus outside the West. It's a lot of ground to cover, though, and it's a thin book.
I think there's something to be said for opinions of the time, since art does not exist outside of the larger environment. Wolfflin, Fry, and even Read may be unnecesarily hard going, though. But Irving Sandler's Triumph of American Painting, The New York School, American Art of the 1960s, and Art of the Postmodern Era give an account of a Post-War New York that's worth considering. In particular, I think one should appreciate how, pace Greenberg, things like the Spanish Civil War informed mid-Century Modernism.
Taschen's Women Artists might be appropriate, since even though we may know that a woman can be an artist today, we still don't always acknowledge that she can be a great artist. It and their Art of the 20th Century are beautifully produced, thoroughly PoMo treatments. Although I suppose a consideration is that they may have too many pictures of naked women of the edgy sort that doesn't necessarily escape under the "it's art" clause.
... also, based on the age group you're trying to reach, I'd suggest The Art Book and The Photography Book by Phaidon Press ... the books have zero context, but provide examples of the work of hundreds (?) of artists, so they're great for a beginner who is just getting interested in art.
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For non-western surveys, Stockstad does the best job of including it in hers, but Africa: The Art of a Continent and History of Japanese Art are good introductions to non-Western art. Framing America has some good stuff on Native American and Mesoamerican art.
For European Art, I'd recommend the following Nineteenth Century Art, History of Italian Renaissance Art, The History of Impressionism, Baroque and Rococo.
Obtaining the DVDs available from the Cloisters, the National Art Gallery, the Museum of Art (NY), and many other museums around the country, and providing a blu-ray or dvd player in a quiet little space would enrich your students' lives inestimably. Be sure to check the FACETS web site for the wonderful classic arts videos they have available. I brain-drool over those catalogs. Along with the film schedules from the Hirshhorn, etc. etc. they constitute a list of things to see if they ever come to our art museum film programs.
Lord Kenneth Clark's book CIVILIZATION, available, I imagine on amazon, in the 1970's accompanied a PBS series. I doubt that you could find the videotapes, but the book is excellent and should provide a springboard for discussing some of the reasons people create, display, collect, and curate objects as works of art.
Do not overlook the value of some beautiful books on gardening, like Hugh Johnson's classic overview. The more students are exposed to the deliberate investment of effort and artistic taste into urban and rural environments, the more we just might prevent youths from vandalizing public and private spaces. The tragedy is that so many of them living in rented housing have so little opportunity to alter the landscape spaces around them in a way that others might value, hence the graffiti movement's genesis, in part.
It would be lovely if part of public housing and schools could provide a space for students to make things for exterior spaces, or to participate in plantings and rock gardens that they will feel invested in for a goodly span of time.